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Maxwell-Sumter saga could close tonight

The interminable saga of Maxwell and Sumter Streets, the Burch Avenue neighborhood and Brown's School House -- er, Duke University -- just could come to resolution tonight.

Believe it when you see it. This business has been on the City Council's docket since December.

But the parties involved may have reached an agreement they can live with. Duke wants the city to close the streets, both short, unpaved corridors between Buchanan Boulevard and Campus Drive running through university property that Duke wants to develop for its Smith Warehouse office complex.

The neighbors, though, wanted the streets to stay open because they provide an exit from the Burch Avenue area when Buchanan is blocked by trains, and because they form a potential pedestrian-bicycle corridor between Buchanan and West Durham.

At first, Duke assured the neighbors it would maintain public access to the streets. Then it changed its mind. Then it said maybe. Then someone wondered just what the law says. Hence the standoff, which has come before and been continued by the council numerous times already.

In July, the City/County Planning Department signed off on the proposal that comes up at the council meeting tonight -- 7 p.m. at City Hall, but the street closings are items 33 and 34 on a 37-item agenda. It would close the streets, automatically giving Duke title to their rights-of-way as the adjoining landowner. But, Duke would be required to provide unrestricted public access 24/7 and allow limited public access to its planned parking lots during special events in that part of town.

On paper, it looks like a plan that all sides can call a win. But, even in Durham, paper can be recycled.

Maxwell, Sumter closings — hey, what's the rush?

Don't look now, but a city decision on closing Maxwell and Sumter streets could get put off yet again.

Earlier today, Mark Eckert of the Burch Avenue Neighborhood Association emailed Mayor Bill Bell and members of the City Council, requesting a delay in the council's vote.

According to his note, the problem now is his misinterpretation of an email exchange between himself and Planning Director Steve Medlin.

Street closings hearing to be continued

Duke University is requesting a third continuance on its request to close two streets near East Campus.The request was due for a public hearing during tonight's Durham City Council meeting.

The request has met opposition from the nearby Burch Avenue Neighborhood Association and several other neighborhoods.

If approved, the university would get ownership of the Maxwell and Sumter street right-of-ways, which run 1,067 feet and 295 feet, respectively, through Duke property between Buchanan Boulevard and Campus Drive, the railroad and Durham Freeway.

Duke originally said it did not intend to actually close the streets, only to take control of them for incorporation into a renovation of the area around its Smith Warehouse, which is being remodeled for office space.

However, opponents say, Duke has now changed its mind and wants to install a gate to restrict access. City council member Eugene Brown said he would not support Duke in that case.

Burch Avenue residents want the request denied unless Duke signs binding agreements that it will keep the streets open for public use, and provide a bicycle-pedestrian route between Pettigrew Street and Buchanan. The Old West Durham, Trinity Park and Long Meadow neighborhood associations have supported their position.

Maxwell and Sumter streets are in bad condition, but residents say they provide a useful detour when Buchanan is blocked by trains.

The council hearing was already continued from the Dec. 1 and Dec. 15 meetings to encourage Duke and the neighbors to strike an agreement, but council members were still receiving emails this week from citizens opposed to the closing.

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